Mar. 29, 2006

Circumference And Centers

by Hugh Ogden

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Poem: "Circumference And Centers" by Hugh Ogden from Bringing a Fir Straight Down. © Higganum Hill Books. Reprinted with permission.

Circumference And Centers

Now that his wife's been dead a year,
Ray's got a savvy Doberman which
he's trained to make a circle when
she runs, a circle when she comes

to heel, a circle when she retrieves.
He claps his hands and Sweetie
comes out of her circles and sits.
Ray still has Betty's twenty-year-

Old Cadillac and his own Chevy truck
and parks them in the garage under
the signs, "Betty," and "Ray," and Sweetie
rides beside him when he drives

the Cadillac, raises her sleek
lynx head to watch the woods as
he talks about clouds and weather,
the two-foot snow that fell every

four days last winter. He drives
a big circle, returning to where
he started with Sweetie alert for
deer, rabbits, reaches into the glove

compartment for a biscuit when
she puts a paw on the brake, tells
her we always return as he pulls
under Betty's name in the garage.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of actor, director, producer and playwright Howard Lindsay, born Herman Nelke in Waterford, New York (1889). Lindsay spent years touring with vaudeville shows and working with silent movies before he found his collaborator, Russel Crouse and together they wrote co-wrote several hit plays. He and Crouse often said that they worked so closely together that they couldn't tell which line was whose after they had finished writing their plays. They would discuss their ideas together, then Crouse would begin typing while Lindsay paced up and down the room and continued talking to Crouse. They said that they knew they were done with a play after Crouse had typed 150 pages and Lindsay had paced 5,000 miles.

Their first hit was Anything Goes (1934), which starred Ethel Merman and featured music by Cole Porter. And they went on to write the scripts for musicals and plays such as The Sound of Music (1959), Mr. President (1962) and State of the Union, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1946.

It's the birthday of politician Eugene McCarthy, born in Watkins, Minnesota (1921). He grew up in a family of Irish Catholics and considered becoming a Catholic monk after high school. He served nine months as a monk in training at St. John's abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. But he switched to studying sociology instead.

He was teaching sociology at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul in the late 1940s when his interest in politics grew so powerful that he decided he had no choice but to run for political office. He won a congressional seat in 1952 and went on to the Senate in 1958.

He distinguished himself in his first term as a congressman by becoming the first person to challenge Joseph McCarthy on the issue of hunting communists. But even more surprising was his decision as a senator to run against Lyndon Johnson for the presidency in 1968. It was almost unheard of for any politician to run against a sitting president of his own party. But McCarthy had decided that someone had to challenge the policy on the war in Vietnam.

It was McCarthy who gave anti-war activists a voice in national politics. Before McCarthy entered the race, the peace movement in America wasn't taken very seriously; anyone who was against the war was called a hippie and treated as irrelevant by the mainstream press and most politicians."

Eugene McCarthy said, "Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it's important."

He died on December 10, 2005.

It's the birthday of Judith Guest, born in Detroit, Michigan (1936). She's written three novels, each of them about adolescent children who have to deal with a crisis in their family: Second Heaven (1982), Errands (1997), and, most famously, Ordinary People (1976).

It's the birthday of Eric Idle, born in South Shields, Durham, England (1943). He's one of the six founding members of the British comedy group Monty Python, famous for its movies and its long-running television show, Monty Python's Flying Circus. Idle often played old ornery women, as well as creepy old men and annoying talk show hosts. Monty Python's first movie was Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), in which Idle plays Sir Robin the Not-So-Brave, who wets his armor at the first sign of danger.

On this day in 1886, John Pemberton perfected a headache and hangover remedy he had cooked up over a fire in his backyard. It contained coca leaves and extract of kola nut, and he advertised it as an "Esteemed Brain Tonic and Intellectual Beverage." He had been making something called "Pemberton's French Wine Coca," but Atlanta had just passed a prohibition law, and he had to come up with an alcohol-free formula. He sweetened the new elixir with sugar instead of wine, and his bookkeeper suggested he name the beverage "Coca-Cola."

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